150222mcfarlandusaposterAt any other time in America’s history, I would give the new Kevin Costner film “McFarland, USA” a glowing recommendation.

The based-on-a-true-story film inserts a white bread, suburban coach’s family into a the impoverished world of immigrant agriculture workers in a classic story of opposites growing from knowing one another and finding surprising community in sharing common goals.

As Costner’s character teaches a group of immigrant teens to run cross country, he inspires the young people to reach higher than they thought possible, and at the same time, they remind him of what’s truly important in life. Everybody grows. Everybody wins. It’s feel-good stuff.

Though completely predictable, right down to the “twist” veteran moviegoers will see coming a mile away, “McFarland, USA” hits all the cliché notes at exactly the right times, illustrating the adage, “The reason many films are formulaic is because the formula works.”

It’s an entertaining, faith-friendly movie that I hope the Movieguide Awards remember next spring when it seeks to honor the kinds of redemptive films that make a positive impact on the culture.

At this day and hour in our nation’s history, however, it’s difficult to separate the film’s release from one of the most raging debates of our time: immigration policy.

For make no mistake: “McFarland, USA” deliberately humanizes (perhaps idealizes?) the Hispanic culture and immigrants living in America, and it reveals some of their plight while very effectively plucking the heart strings. This is a movie you can’t help but be moved by, no matter where you stand on the divisive issue of immigration.

And therein is my only note of caution.

I expect the typical liberal – who resonates more with pathos than logos – will see this, be moved nearly to tears and cry out, “See? Look at how these people suffer. It’s not fair. It’s not just. This is why we need ‘comprehensive immigration reform’ now!”

Some may even suggest that’s the point of the movie. Cynical about Hollywood or Disney, which made this film, they’ll see it as a thinly-veiled scheme to push for open borders, higher minimum wage and so forth.

But I’m not willing to go that far.

For starters, the film itself doesn’t play the politics card. There are no speeches about how unjust America is, no scenes where little immigrant children are cowering in fear of deportation, no overt appeals for “amnesty now!”
So before the typical conservative goes all knee-jerk and claims “McFarland, USA” is just leftist propaganda, a moment to stop and think. Or, better yet, to stop and feel.

“McFarland, USA” is a movie that reveals the human side of the divisive issue. Even for principled conservatives who understand the need for the rule of law, the security of our borders and the free market system – perhaps especially for those of us who fit that description – it’s valuable to take a moment to remember there’s a human element and drama that plays into the national policy debate.

And for those of us who are also Christian conservatives, the film is a poignant lesson about how we treat neighbors, how we treat “the alien among you” and about building community.

I can’t recommend liberals go see this movie, because I fear they’ll all too easily jump to all the wrong conclusions. But for most of the audience of this column, a few hours to enjoy “McFarland, USA,” even if that means being forced to reevaluate your attitudes, would be time well spent.

Content advisory:

  • “McFarland, USA,” rated PG, contains fewer than 10 obscenities and profanities, most of which are mild.
  • The film has very little sexuality, limited to some slightly mature dialogue, a kiss, a boyfriend who pats his girlfriend on the rear, some shirtless guys and a catcall.
  • The film does have some violent moments, including a couple of fights, an implied – but not shown – knife fight, football collisions, a near-suicide scene and a man who throws something at a teen, cutting his cheek open. There is some minor bloodshed and a scene of vomiting.
  • There is no occult content, though a student does write a poem about “speaking to the gods.” There is a meaningful scene of spontaneous group prayer, as well as the presumably Catholic boys “crossing” themselves and an utterance of “Please, dear God, no.”

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